NEW ORLEANS — Warriors coach Steve Kerr has always had the luxury of an antidote whenever his team found itself on the brink during the last five seasons.
Dubbed the “Death Lineup,” the unit that Kerr rolled out in those moments employed 6-foot-5 forward Draymond Green at center, surrounded by four shooters, including Andre Iguodala, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes (and then Kevin Durant, which turned it into the “Super Death Lineup”), helping Golden State overcome major deficits to win three NBA championships in five years.
On Monday night, with the less-star-studded Warriors facing an 0-3 start to the season, a lineup consisting of Curry, D’Angelo Russell, Glenn Robinson III, rookie Jordan Poole and Green at center momentarily helped Golden State get its season back on track.
In the Warriors’ 134-123 win over the Pelicans, Green made an imprint early. On the game’s first possession, he received a pass from Curry, faked a pass of his own and drove in for an easy layup, giving the Warriors their first lead of the season. Four minutes later, Green secured a rebound and flipped a perfect pass to Jordan Poole, who then hit a 3-pointer.
By night’s end, Green had registered a triple-double, with 16 points, 10 assists and 17 rebounds, finishing a game-high plus-36 from the floor.
“I thought it gave us a better chance to get started early, open up the floor,” Kerr said of the lineup. “When Draymond is in the middle of our offense, as the fulcrum, he’s going to generate a lot of offense. So he’s difficult to handle out there.”
“He’s just a playmaker,” Curry said. “He knows how to get to the right spots and make other guys better just by getting the ball on time and on target or putting pressure on the rim. He’s made a living doing that on the offensive end and featuring the weapons around him.”
Historically, the “Death Lineup” has been used to push the pace. With Green at center alongside shooters, Golden State could do just that, essentially running teams off the floor.
This time, Kerr’s decision to put Green at center came as a necessity. With Durant gone to Brooklyn, Iguodala technically in Memphis and Thompson potentially out of the season, Golden State’s defense had plummeted to the bottom of the league. In their first two games, the Warriors were outscored 261-214. Adding to the troubles, three of the team’s four big men are out with injuries, including defensive specialist Kevon Looney and 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein.
In recent games, the Warriors have been forced to rely on their inexperienced core, including six players under the age of 26. All too frequently, players have been out of position, often second-guessing actions while overthinking the system, a trend they momentarily reversed Monday.
“There’s a level of intensity we got to, a level of energy that we hadn’t seen in the first two games,” Kerr said. “I thought it was more confusion on our young guys kind of trying to figure out where to be rather than lack of effort. When you’re thinking too much, it’s tough to just let it go and play. Tonight, I felt like we just played. Our guys didn’t think too much.”
For the moment, lineups including Green at center will continue. Looney’s immediate future is uncertain, and Cauley-Stein doesn’t have a return date. Still, some believe the current unit could even mirror the famous Death Lineup.
“We’ll find something like that with this group over time,” Curry said. “But there was a lot of high-IQ guys, veterans that know how to play their game and have been through so much in their careers so just up into that point. You can’t rush things.
“Again, that’ll come. We have to find the identity with this squad and like the go-to lineup is.”
Steve Kerr uses scaled-down ‘Death Lineup’ to spark Warriors’ first win originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area
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